Cartoonist/artist/ author Lynda Barry spoke and signed books at Oak Park's Unity Temple this past Tuesday evening at another wonderful event arranged by Oak Park's premier independent bookstore "The Book Table". Recently a similar presentation spotlighted graphic novelist Chris Ware", and while Lynda Barry's loose childlike drawings are in many ways the antithesis of Ware's tightly rendered work, they share a talent for getting deep under the skin of their semi-autobiographical characters. While I was familiar with Ms. Barry's work as a cartoonist from her strip "Ernie Pook's Comeek", which ran in the Chicago Reader from 1979 through 2008, I haven't kept up with her other efforts, which includes seven books and a spoken word CD. Her latest book is "Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book". While those looking for a cohesive storyline may be disappointed, "Picture This" is a gem for those in search of inspiration and dry humor. The book is a celebration of Ms. Barry's child inspired art, with recurring motifs including meditating monkeys, chickens, rabbits, and pseudo ads for the fictional "DON'T" brand cigarettes. The event was moderated by Oak Park author Elizabeth Berg, who is clearly a huge Barry fan. One slightly awkward moment occurred when Ms. Berg asked about Lynda's school day romantic flings with Simpson's creator Matt Groening and NPR radio's Ira Glass, at one point asking "What kind of a kisser was Ira Glass?". Lynda politely deflected the question, simply saying "That was a long time ago." Today Lynda lives in her birth state of Wisconsin with her husband, a prairie style restorer and watercolorist who added color and backgrounds to some of her pictures in the book. While his additions are skillful, I personally prefer the non-collaborative work in "Picture This". Among other surprising revelations of the evening's presentation is the fact that her favorite printed comic is the mainstream "Family Circus". She recalled being literally overcome with emotion at finally meeting FC cartoonist Bil Keane in person. The main theme of the night and the core message of "Picture This" is Lynda Barry's mission of helping everyone recapture the creative spirit that we all possessed as children. She credits her Evergreen State College teacher Marilyn Frasca with many of the techniques she uses in her creativity workshops.
Many thanks to Lynda Barry and "The Book Table" for a wonderful presentation.